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Devon 2016 by Jennifer MacNeill
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Devon Horse Show

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In Pennsylvania, election observers are guarding against voter suppression tactics

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Minority voters here may notice the presence of election observers milling about polling places during Tuesday’s election. Pennsylvania organizers from Election Protection, a nonpartisan organization run by the the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, planned to dispatch close to 700 observers. These volunteers have been trained to spot suppression tactics, record those incidences and report them to the appropriate authority. This year could be particularly bad for minority voters — and not because of Trump.

Stress signals in dogs...and why they are important!!

I was watching a video the other day of a service dog in training. He was heeling beautifully beside his handler in a department store, sitting on command, performing a long distance down stay, and just being a really good dog. The handler wrote a short bit about how proud she was for how well her puppy was doing with his public access training. However, my heart truly breaks for this dog.

What the handler failed to realize is how completely uncomfortable her dog was to be there. Despite him behaving near flawlessly, his body language was screaming he’d rather be anywhere but where he was right then. Unfortunately many dog owners fail to notice subtle, yet key, signs of stress for their dog. Without knowing how to read subtle changes in body language, you can easily cause your dog to go from mildly nervous or uncomfortable, to a full on panic or rage in a matter of seconds. This is what happens when people say their dog “just had a meltdown,” or even snapped at someone, for “no reason.”  Ignoring stress signals is incredibly dangerous for everyone involved.

When out training with your service dog (or your pet dog for that matter), it is important to get into the habit of carefully watching your dog’s body language. It helps to write down in a training log exactly how your dog reacts to different stimuli. This way, you will be able to clearly see where your dog is solid, where your dog is not, where you are improving, and where you need more work.

Below are signs of minor stress signals for dogs.

When I say minor, this doesn’t mean you should continue what you are doing in hopes he will just “get over it.”  What I DO mean is that these are the signals which are almost always overlooked… when key stress signals are overlooked by the handler, it can lead to much greater problems.

  • Lip licking when no food is present
  • Yawning when he didn’t just wake up
  • Rapid sniffing of the air or ground
  • Stiff movement or tense muscles
  • Slowed movement or a laggy heel
  • Lowered tail
  • Hyper vigilance (rapidly moving eyes trying to scan the environment)
  • Hardened facial features
  • Dog stops taking treats/food
  • Dog starts taking treats in a more hard/bitey manor
  • Hard eyes (fast/sharp blinking)
  • Weight shift changes
  • Panting when it’s not hot out
  • Slightly roached (curved) back
  • Ears back
  • Not responding to handler’s commands
  • Looking away from handler
  • Whiney and uneasy
  • Nibbling on treats but not actually eating them
  • Leaning on the handler
  • Scratching themselves

Now here are some major stress signals for dogs.

If your dog is experiencing any of these, it is not only time to remove him from the situation ASAP, but to also rethink your training plan. Many of these signals will occur just shortly before a complete panic and/or bite.

  • Tightly tucked tail
  • Whale eye (dog’s eyes go wide and you can see the white rim around them)
  • Pulling towards an exit
  • Pulling away from the handler
  • Spinning on the leash
  • Not responding to the handler’s commands
  • Not responding to the handler’s voice
  • Shaking
  • Urinating
  • Low/tucked body position with a roached (curved) back
  • Sweaty paws
  • Whining
  • Heavy breathing when it’s not hot out
  • Teeth chattering
  • Tense lips and incisors (front teeth) showing while licking at the air
  • Laying down on the ground with their chin down and not wanting to move

Your service dog depends on you JUST as much as you depend on him. As your dog’s handler, you are 100% responsible for his mental and physical well-being at all times. No matter what situation you find yourself in, your dog’s needs should always come first.

Pushing a nervous dog into a situation where he is uncomfortable is one of the absolute worst things you can do for your SDiT, and creates the potential for much greater behavioral issues further down the road. Thinking your dog can “just get over it” is an extremely outdated training tactic. Just because your dog appears to stop fighting does NOT mean he is comfortable in that situation… it simply means he has shut down.  He’s still anxious and afraid, but he’s decided there’s no point in fighting anymore. This is one of the most dangerous situations your dog may find himself in. He appears “calm,” but a second later has the potential to lash out and bite.

I get it, we are all excited to start public access training! However, the goal for service dog training should always be to create a mentally sound and stable dog in all situations. Subjecting him to situations which cause him fear or panic is just NOT the way to do that.